You’d think nothing had been happening round here.
But everything has been happening.
Firstly, we had to finish off classes for the year. We were so tired out, it was a relief, and yet it’s a poo to interrupt the learnz. But knowing when to rest is important.
Secondly, we had MLX. The biggest event in Australia. I was coordinating the DJs. I got into bed at 6am on Saturday and Sunday because I was having so much fun DANCING. Pilates has made masses of difference to my stamina – dancing is just so much less work because I use my body more efficiently. The music – live and DJed – was beyond compare. It was a massive weekend, and all the organisers and DJs should be very, very proud of themselves.
Thirdly, I arrived home on Monday, utterly shagged, my knees destroyed, and had to get shit together for the Little Big Weekend with Ramona, which started that Thursday. I was running this one on my own, and it was pretty much 100% sorted. Except for those little things I discovered on about, oh SUNDAY. But that’s how running events works – you discover little errors or mistakes or problems, you solve them, you rock.
I have to say, this was a seriously successful weekend.
Ramona did the Ramona thing: she was ridiculously professional and excellent company. Being in a range of classes with her, it was made very clear that there’s a real difference between being a regular teacher and being a world class teacher with ten years of teaching under your belt. The classes were fantastically structured and executed, and Ramona’s physical abilities were so far beyond what I’ve seen in workshops with other international teachers this year, I was blown away. And then, the class content!
I asked Ramona to teach things that I was really interested in, and then she DID. A class in soft shoe, a class in blackbottom, a class focussing on three different character dancers (Snake Hips, Josephine Baker and… mental blank). It was a solo weekend (!!), and the material was really quite eccentric. The classes sold out in 48 hours, we opened new spaces, the classes sold out again. And then to see a large group of people just lapping up this strange, bizarro wonderment, working hard, laughing and just relishing the Ramonaness…. it was a real delight.
After the workshop day, we had a christmas party (I didn’t run that one), then a late night party (I didn’t run that one either), and the late night party was A M A Z I N G. My standards were high after MLX. But I would even say that this was better than the late nights there. That could just be local pride. But, seriously, it was just fabulous.
There were a few other sessions on the weekend – a training session for a performance troupe, a ‘masters’ private class (masters = hardcore solo jazz nerds) and a small teacher training session – and Ramona was a real trooper. The work load must have been so tiring, but she kept rocking. And I’ve heard report after report from attendees gushing about the classes. I myself feel so inspired and invigorated. We taught on the Monday immediately after the weekend and got to test some things from the teacher training. It was exciting and inspiring and satisfying!
So, the Little Big Weekend with Ramona: wonderful.
Thirdly, Alice and I had two classes to teach on the Monday after the weekend, as part one of a three night block at a larger venue. We did a 1920s partner session (boy we wanted to do blackbottom!), then the first in a series we’re calling ‘beautiful basics’. This first basics class was looking at rhythm in lindy hop. It was a really nice coincidence to see Ramona emphasising rhythm so fiercely in her classes. We’d planned this class ages ago because we’re really into rhythm in our solo and lindy hop dancing, so Ramona’s approach helped confirm our feelings.
We worked very carefully on a class that began with a strong solo component (looking at the ‘step step triple step, step step triple step’ lindy hop rhythm, gradually adding in new fundamental rhythms – stomp off, kick ball change, hold), getting the students to dance out those rhythms in combinations. The goals were to work on bounce, on timing (syncopation, swing, etc) and on combining and changing rhythms.
We spent about three quarters of the class on that, and the students worked very hard – we were so impressed. Then we had them partner up, and we worked on putting those rhythms into swing outs. Swing out after swing out. The goal was to show how rhythms can be the core part of a swing out, and that shapes or ‘moves’ aren’t necessarily the most important part (though of course that’s fun stuff too).
It was really thrilling to see them suddenly go “Ah-ha!” when they understood how working on the rhythms on their own were an essential part of rocking their partner stuff. And their swing outs! It was really inspiring. So that class was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.
Next week we’re expanding that concept of ‘beautiful basics’ with a class looking at ‘making space for rhythm in lindy hop’. In that class we’ll take some basic steps or shapes (swing outs, under arm turns, etc) in a very basic ‘routine’, and then look at how we can make those basic steps a framework for rhythm or jazz steps. So the goal is to create swing outs or shapes that are flexible and relaxed, and to help students figure out how their connection with their partner can be open to improvisation.
I was quite struck by how this week’s class, which was quite simple in concept (make your swing out a jazz step and dance on your own, then rhythm-it-up, then make it into partner work again) could be so useful. The key was the practice and experimentation. And it was really nice to see the students then taking each of those rhythms and varying their shapes or emphases. Hopefully this next class will be just as useful. The goal with this one is to help students see how the most basic lindy hop ‘moves’ can be frameworks or outlines for more complex, textured dancing. The key is to be relaxed and self-reflexive, understanding how your own movements affect your partner’s, and how to be open to invention and improvisation.
Fourthly, I had pilates last night, after a day of busy appointments. I love pilates. It feels like a nice, gentle, low-impact, relaxing workout. My knees don’t hurt, I don’t sweat that much, I can be calm and properly mindful and in my body. And by GEEZ the work has improved my lindy hop.
And now it’s Wednesday, and I have no obligations! Well, I have stacks of post-event admin to do, but I’m giving myself a break, as I’m totally buggered. So of course I’m taking this time to write and write, rather than going out and doing something calming and non-dance related.
Tomorrow, of course, it’s on again. There’s a GREAT gig featuring three bands on tomorrow night at 505. The New Sheiks are from Melbourne (I squeed about their latest album here), and I’m really looking forward to hearing them. Then there are the Finer Cuts, who are from Sydney, and who played the christmas party. Most of their band members also played the late night Speakeasy party and were fabulous. And the final name on that bill is Pugsley Buzzard, who used to live in Sydney, but is now Melbourne based.
I’m really looking forward to the gig. I’m totally and completely over DJs (sorry, DJs) – live music is rocking my boat.
But, now, I have to add a caveat. The DJs at MLX made me realise that it’s really only ordinary DJs that I’m tired of. The quality of DJing at MLX was so vastly far beyond the ordinary DJs I hear, and have heard at other events during the year, it makes it clear that skillz are not universal. My own DJing, sadly, was not really up to snuff. I think I did an ok, job, but I definitely wasn’t up to my past standards. Assessing my own work, particularly on the Friday late night in the lindy hop room, I think I’d put me on the non-crucial sets next year.
In retrospect… heck, thinking about my DJing now, the problems are: I don’t DJ hardcore events enough these days, so I’m out of practice; I spend more time thinking about dancing than DJing, and am not on top of my own music; I’m not inspired, and I’m not nerding up my way through vast quantities of music each week. Basically, teaching and my own dance work have pushed DJing to the back of my mind. For now. I think this is a good thing. I’d much rather use band than DJs, and I’d much rather be dancing than sitting on my clack watching other people dancing. I’m also 38 now, so I reckon I should do the hardcore dancing now before my body totally asplodes. Time enough for DJing later.
So I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks. It’s been really, really great. I had a massage when I got back from MLX, which really helped, but I do feel as though I’ve pushed my dodgy knees a bit further than I should have. Curse you genetics! Now I’m thinking about next year, and about events in the future. I have some schemes, and some ideas for other events. I’d like to do something completely different and unusual. Something that we don’t see in Australian jazz dance. Now I just need some funding (to the arts grants!), some business skills (to the TAFE!) and a crack team of people to help me pull these things off. I love having the chance to combine my academic experience with my dance love. I figure all that time applying for and getting grants and scholarships during my postgrad years is going to be very useful in the near future.
Dancing, you are the finest. Organising and planning, you are the equal-finest.
I’m putting together The Little Big Weekend with Ramona for the 1st/2nd of December here in Sydney. We’ll be hosting the lovely and badass Ramona Staffeld, who’ll be teaching a day of workshops on the Saturday.
That evening there’ll be the SP Christmas party with Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts (the band that wowed dancers on the Friday night of SLX a few weeks ago), and then a late night Speakeasy party.
Plans for the Speakeasy are still rumbling along, but another business time jazz jam style battle is planned, and there are hopes for a band. The business time jam is an open ‘competition’ (in the least competitive sense of the word), where dancers enter the jam as solo teams, alone, as lindy hop partners – whatever – dance as long as they need to, then get out. The audience judges, and last time there was a real prize (a signed copy of Frankie Manning’s autobiography). Speakeasy is run by a bunch of volunteers and its profits are stuffed back into the kitty for future events. The parties always feature delicious food (caek, etc – of a very high, home-baked standard), and dancers are encouraged to byo drinks.
On the Sunday we’re looking at a teacher training workshop (for dancers who are currently teaching – drop me a line if you’re interested in attending), focussing on all sorts of dancing, not just solo dance. And then we’ll wander down to either East Sydney or Unity Hall or somewhere else nice for a bit of live music and social dancing and beerz.
Prices will be reasonable, classes will be top shelf, social dancing will be fun. Though we’re focussing mostly on catering to the needs of local dancers (solo jazz is madpopular atm), if you’re interstate or visiting from overseas and looking for a nice little chaser for MLX, why not join us?
Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts are doing their first explicitly-for-dancers gig at the Performance ball on Saturday. SQUEE (linky)
The Speakeasy is on again after the ball, and that will be FUNTIMES as they are doing the usual excellence, but also including a jam style battle. There aren’t any rules for this battle, really. You go in as an individual, as a lindy hop partnership, as a solo partnership, and you dance what you need to dance, then you get out. There are real prizes and everything. I have no idea how it’s actually judged, but as per usual Speakeasy style, audience participation and general enthusiasm will no doubt be deciding factors.
I’m DJing a set at the Speakeasy in the main lindy hop part of the space, and I’m really looking forward to that. FUNTIMES.
– Saturday 25 August, doors open 7.30pm, close at 11.15pm
– Free class with Sam (aka me) and Alice from 8pm
– Balmain Town Hall
– $25 online purchase or $30 at the door
– Featuring live music by Geoff Bull & The Finer Cuts and live dance performances. http://www.facebook.com/events/253921514713395/
Speakeasy Late Night Party
– Saturday 25 August, doors open 11.30pm, close _very late_
– Entry $10
– Crossover Dance Studios, level 1, 22 Goulburn St CBD
– DJed music for srs party time dancing (2 rooms of music)
– lots of (free) cakes, snacks and goodies
– late night jam-style battle (open to and welcoming all solo and partner dancers) http://www.facebook.com/events/201612056634174/
NB: if you’re short of cash or want a chance to meet some peeps, both events love volunteers and comp them with free entry.
(photo of Mary Lou Williams, extremely awesome woman pianist, who fucking PWND the fairly dick-centred boogiewoogie piano world, from here. She was all about OWNING the discourse.)
I’m back running, desperate to get some serious exercise during the christmas dancing drought. So far it’s going well, except today I did run 2 of week 2 of the Ease into 10k program, rather than of the couch to 5k program. I couldn’t figure out why I was finding it so challenging. I figured it was just because I’m out of shape and it’s getting a bit hot even at 9am. It wasn’t until the last running section of the program that I figured it out. Dummy. Hope my knees pull up ok.
I love running. I’m not much good at it. I run slower than I walk. But I love running around my neighbourhood, looking at stuff and saying hello to people I see every day. Whether they like it or not. I also like it that just thirty minutes of running does the job. Delivers the adrenaline, kicks my arse, strengthens my core, lifts my mood. It’s finally getting hotter here, so I’m ready to swim again. Been in the pool once, and I’m suddenly on fire for lap swimming. Love that boring, repetitive exercise with clear, simple goals.
Right now I’m listening to a lot of boogie woogie piano, which kind of suits my adrenaline fixation. Lots of busy left-handedness.
The Sydney Festival First night stuff was fun. Thousands of people pouring into the streets of the CBD to dance and listen to music and watch stuff. The best thing I saw was a koori acrobatic troupe traveling through the festival with a team of gypsy musicians. That shit was hot. Then the next best thing was Tuba Skinny, being lovely. I didn’t much care for the Troc festival. I’m really tired of Dan Barnet’s grandstanding. I much prefer the Sirens Big Band when they’re doing their own thing, without someone with a dick bossing them about. Also, they played the lamest, lamest songs. But I did like the bit during the free class where I looked around and realised we were standing in the middle of a crowd of women dancing together. Extreme lesbian awesome. The Speakeasy after the festival was massive and hot and sweaty and I had a lot of fun there, too.
Our regular dancing gigs are about to start up. This weekend Swing pit is on Friday and Roxbury on Saturday. I’m bossing the DJs for Swingpit (do drop me a line if you want a set!), and I’m DJing at Roxbury. It sucks that they’re both on the same weekend rather than alternative weekends, but that’s one of those complicated things that really ends up being too difficult to keep sorted. I’m looking forward to DJing. I haven’t DJed a proper hardcore lindy hop set since MLX, pretty much, and the Roxbury gig is probably my favourite hardcore DJing opportunity in Sydney.
Alice and I are trying to get our venue sorted for our weekly classes, so if you know a good venue in Sydney’s inner west that’d like to righteous sisters running fun and also badarse lindy hop classes, do drop me a line. I’m looking forward to that.
Health wise, things are ok over here. Not optimal, but far better than they have been. It’s a long, slow road, yo.
Realised yesterday that most of the dance clips I’ve been watching lately are of competitions. Which is a bit boring.
Decided today that I’d really like to be a part of a community run dance event like Speakeasy, but run more regularly, and which focusses on proper lindy hopping music. I want to DJ music from 60 to 360bpm in the one set, and I want to play all my music. And I want dancers to come along and give it a go. I think I’ve finally gotten to the point in my DJing and dancing where I properly understand that just playing music within one tempo range is a complete fail, dancing and creativity wise. Not to mention historically speaking. I am now, officially, against separate ‘blues’ and ‘lindy hop’ events. They should all be in one basket. One event. …actually, I’m not sure I’m against those separate events. But I do know I’m going to continue to copy my current DJing hero, Falty, and play all the tempos in one set.
I’m also (while I’m expositing) impatient with dancers who don’t dance slow. Come on, yo, it needn’t be sexy. Though, having just watched Dirty Dancing, I generally feel that it should be dirty as often as possible. Being able to dance slow is really important in the development of your dance skills. Fast dancing hides errors. But when things are slow, you’ve got to have ninja skills. Good balance, good timing, clear understanding of musical structures. Rhythm. I am hereby advocating slow dancing. Though I’m not particularly interested in ‘blues dance events’. They are really really boring. Sure, I like a blues event attached to a lindy hop event, but a whole weekend of blues dancing? Hurrumph. Well, actually, I’m into it if the DJs and bands are ninjas. I need a very good ‘blues DJ’ to convince me to dance without the adrenaline to kick it on. And I’m not single, so I’m not into the whole frottage cheese side of blues dancing either right now. Though I’m certainly not against it. Sexeh dancing. It’s ok by me. I suspect I’d like blues dancing gigs more if I drink. But I’m boringly straight edge, so I don’t. I am an unashamed adrenaline junky, and I live for good conversation. Don’t make me take up drinking so I can deal with your conversation, k? I think, in the final analysis, that it’s easier to go to a lindy gig if you’re feeling a bit poopy or low energy, because the adrenaline kicks you out of your rut. But blues dancing doesn’t kick you, so you just carry on being a poo. Don’t go to a blues weekend if you’re feeling slumpy. Just don’t. It’s too goddamn dull.
…briefly, on blues DJing: same principles as DJing for lindy hop. Exact same principles. Work the crowd, work the tempos, work the energy, transition smoothly between styles, know your music, know music, don’t be a dick. Most importantly: WORK THE ENERGY.
Feminism, in the news. Or on the twitters. There’ve been a few big fights on the twitts lately. Annoyingly, the gist of it has been:
Middle class guys with big discursive power write some sexist bullshit in what I would call a discursively powerful/elite space.
They get called on it (politely, cleverly) by some sisters in a public, less powerful space (ie twitter).
The guys get all shitty about being called on their rubbish. Because they are TEH LEFTIES and they know about feminism because their partner is a feminist OKAY.
All the feminists get a bit shitty with the way the guys respond to getting a heads-up.
There’s lots of fighting on teh internets.
Everyone gets angry and upset.
Here’s a couple of my ideas on this:
Twitter is in real time, which means you can post really quickly. In the days of discussion boards, I learnt that it’s important not to post angry. I think that some of teh lefty interkitten people need to be reminded of how to talk in tutorials where everyone is equal: don’t talk angry. It’s upsetting. Be cool.
Blogs are good places for complicated arguments. But not many people are good at talking in 140 characters to hundreds of people at a time in real time, without having visual cues to let them know what people are thinking. Though, frankly, I don’t think those guys would have been any good at reading what was happening in their audience’s body language any way. Power involves speaking without fear of consequence. So you don’t need to worry about reading people’s bodies for their feelings. Because it doesn’t matter if they’re shitty: they can’t touch you!
A lot of the wordy lefty guy types aren’t much good at talking in a space that doesn’t favour formal turn taking and quietly attentive audiences. In twittersville, peeps are interrupting you, they’re interrupting each other. They’re doing collaborative meaning making (or meaning disruption) in a way that requires pretty serious skills. I keep thinking about the difference between giving a conference paper and being at afternoon tea with a bunch of lindy hopping ladies. One’s nice and middle class polite and gonna maintain your dick-power and status, the other’s gonna be loud, competitive, rowdy, disrespectful and full of dirty jokes, with lots of complicated unspoken rules and limits. Basically, twitter is not for menz who like the ladies to shoosh-while-they’re-talking.
Lefty men really, really REALLY don’t like being told that they’re using the privilege of power to other’s disadvantage. Especially when the person telling them is being calm, sensible and female.
Specifically, I think those two posts in the King’s Tribune are fucked up, old school sexism. Sure, they were trying to be jokes, but some of us don’t think rape is funny. Not ever. Because some of us have to think about protecting ourselves from rape most of our waking hours. And when you bring that shit onto the internet, you’re going to get your fucking arse kicked, idiot, because THE SISTERS ARE TALKING, HERE. Also, your jokes: they were rubbish. TRY HARDER. FEMINISM IS WAITING FOR YOU TO GET IT TOGETHER. The thing that shits me most about this is that, once again, it’s the sisters who have to help the sooky little boys figure out how to be decent human beings. We are not your mothers. WE HAVE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO and we are tired of helping you tidy up your shit.
I have written part of a post on this, but it got a bit upsetting to write. I think I want to pursue it, but perhaps on another day. But I think I need to, because apparently those guys aren’t actually ok with women talking out loud in public. Especially not when those women are disagreeing with them. And me, I aim to disagree.
Last night there was a lunar eclipse, and I was up at midnight to see it. It was an amazing thing, but now I am feeling the late night in my bones.
I’m ‘preparing’ for another Speakeasy (10:30pm next Friday night, Crossover studio, 22 Golburn St, Sydney), when I should really be lying on the couch watching Nick Cage rage against the injustice of his severed hand before being ravished by Cher. I should perhaps also be eating a little high-end chocolate.
But no. I’m fucking about with my music.
Last night I went to my second dance christmas party of the year, and it was good. Both dances featured Pugsly Buzzard, which is pretty ok, as he is pretty damn good. Last night he was playing with a drummer and a broken legged tuba player (there’s a joke in there somewhere), which was kind of odd, considering the crowd was mostly rock n rollers (that school teaches rock n roll and lindy hop). But it all turned out ok in the end. Most of us can get behind a bit of dirty Fats Waller or growly early rhythm n blues. I danced my pants off, sweating through three shirts and asploding my poor knees. I was leading an awful lot, more than following, and by the end of the night I had complete brain drain and couldn’t string two moves together. Need. More. Moves.
I think my favourite part of the night was dancing to a particularly awesome mashedup version of ‘Shake That Thing/Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’ with a really fun friend who also likes to dance de solo, and also does dancehall, so she’s packing serious hip isolation. No, wait, the best part of the night was dancing with her near some older rock n rollers. Older rock n rollers can be very conservative about gender stuff, so they were quite disapproving.
Actually, I know my favourite part of last night was after the band had finished, watching Bruce and Sharon dance to a rock and roll song and finally understanding why people dance rock and roll. I really can’t stand that partner stuff where the guy kind of hunches forwards with his elbow glued to his right hip, his arm bent 45 degrees, and kind of bobbing his head up and down, looking at the floor while he spins and spins and spins his partner. Boring Town. But Bruce and Sharon – with their exciting, dynamic amazing dancing of amazingness – made me realise what the big deal is, and I was almost moved to Cross The Floor and take up something a little more modern. Almost.
I liked it that the gig was at the Marrickville Hardcourt Tennis Club, which is also a Portugese social club, and that meant the food was interesting. This is one of the positives of the Australian social club scene. And I liked very much that the band played that Donald Harrison/Dr John version of ‘Big Chief’. The nice thing about a crowd from different dance styles and scenes is that there’s going to be someone out there who will give each song a go.
But today I am feeling very seedy.
Last night followed a busy Friday night where Alice and I taught at Swingpit and I realised that when I’m teaching dance I’m just as ‘on’ as when I’m tutoring or lecturing, except I’m doing the equivalent to aerobics at the same time.
I was so bloody buggered afterwards. It was total fun, though, and it was really nice to talk about Frankie Manning to a bunch of new dancers, and the importance of pretending you’re a 90 year old man on his third hip. I think the best part of teaching is figuring out that the silliest (yet most authentic) jazz steps make other people giggle like fools as well. It’s very, very nice to see people who enter the room shy and uncomfortable at their first dance class transform into exhibitionists, simply through the power of ridiculousness. I’m also kind of fascinated by the fact that I’m talking about pretending to be a man when I’m dancing while I’m standing in front of a crowd of men who then use me as their model for movement. Genderflex to the power of n, to the point where it’s not even really worth bothering trying to figure out whether we’re using ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ movements. And I keep coming across deaf dancers, dancers who really get what’s happening in dance. Oh yeeaaah.
After we finished that, I social danced like a crazy person until I realised I was dying of dehydration and a bit tired and overwhelmed by the noise and had to sit outside for a little bit. Then I danced some more.
I do love dancing. I love it so much. And I’m quite enjoying not DJing as much. More dancing. More. Now I am madly frustrated by my lack of moves for leading. Luckily, there’s a solution for that problem.
Ok, so now I’m sitting on the couch, kind of melting in the humidity, but at the same time still stupidly dehydrated. Trying to get my brain around some music for the Speakeasy, and not doing so well. Everything feels a bit loud and a bit annoying. Really, the only solution is a little Japanese funk.
Or, really, a bit of light weight soul would be a better fit. I really like this particular version of I Need A Dollar by Aloe Blacc:
But, really, the best of all things is a bit of Sharon Jones
All that is the kind of action that goes down well at a Speakeasy (I’ve written about this event lots of times because I love it). I know, the name suggests a sort of 20s vibe, but it has that name because that’s what it was at first. But now it is legit. I like to do this soul/funk stuff, but I find it gets a bit old after a while, and I really tend to lean on people like Big Mama Thornton and then over into the gutsier vocal blues at higher tempos. Last time I did this gig, I really wanted to play the Propellerheads doing ‘History Repeating’ with Shirley Bassey because I remember dancing to it in nightclubs, but it doesn’t actually work that well when you compare it to really good music. I mean, it’s good, but it’s not brilliant. Shirley Bassey is, though.
I really like the way all this stuff is in stereo. It kind of blows my brain.
Really, a successful Speakeasy set ends up being 3 parts NOLA, 1 part Big Mama Thornton. But right now I think I need to watch Olympia Dukakis disapproving of weak-willed men for a couple of hours.
Waitin’ and Drinkin’ Di – Anne Price – 88 Steps to the Blues – 126 – 2009 – 3:16
When I Get Low – Gordon Webster (with Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Adrian Cunningham) – Live In Philadelphia – 107 – 2010 – 5:27
Let’s Do It – Terra Hazelton (feat. Jeff Healey, Marty Grosz, Dan Levinson, Vince Giordano) – Anybody’s Baby – 126 – 2004 – 4:28
Lemonade – Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five (vol 5) – 117 – 1950 – 3:17
What A Man – Linda Lyndall – The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles Volume 2: 1968-1971 – 86 – 2:42
You’re Losing Me – Ann Sexton – Stone Cold Funk – 113 – 1971 – 2:22
Chain Of Fools – Aretha Franklin – Greatest Hits – Disc 1 – 116 – 2:48
Here I Am (Come and Take Me) – Al Green – Greatest Hits – 95 – 1975 – 4:15
Things are Slow – Barbara Dane – I Hate the Capitalist System – 91 – 4:17
Black Rat (take 4) – Big Mama Thornton (with Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Otis Spann, Sammy Lawhorn, Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson, Francis Clay) – With the Muddy Waters Blues Band, 1966 – 101 – 1966 – 2:53
A few of my current favourites, a few of my really old favourites (Anne Sexton), a few overplayed soul classics. But really, when does ‘Respect’ get old? When we live in a postpatriarchy, baby.
You can read more about my DJing this set at the above link where I go into the night in lots of detail. But for now, this’ll do.
This is going to be a crazy, incoherent post about how much fun I had last night.
First, there was a dance at the old Jail in Darlinghurst, in the National Art School‘s Jail House Theatre. Amazing venue. Amazing:
Secondly, the band were the Ozcats, who are a Bob Crosby tribute band, and feature some of the best musicians in the country:
Bob Barnard – trumpet
Trevor Rippingale – tenor saxophone
Paul Furniss – clarinet
Dan Barnett – trombone
Dave MacRae – piano
Stan Valacos – bass
Lawrie Thompson – drums
John Blenkhorn – rhythm guitar
Ron Falson – arranger and 2nd trumpet
I’m a big fan of Bob Crosby, and I really like the Ozcats I have one of their CDs, but I wasn’t all that excited by it. But I’ve seen them live before, and they’re really, really good. This is a very professional, very tight group of musicians who really know their shit. But they’re also very inspired (and inspiring) and really make fabulous music.
From the first song last night, I was enraptured. It was my perfect tempo for the first few songs – about 180 to just over 200. Beginning dancing, I was prepared to just have a nice time. But by the final chorus, my mind was BLOWN. This was the best band I’d lindy hopped to in… well, ages.
I looked around at the dance floor, though, and saw only about ten couples. There were 200 or so people in the room. Uh-oh. After about 4 songs, the band played a version of… ‘Makin Whoopee’. As I heard the first few notes I thought ‘Oh no. Sell out.’ But the dancers (who were mostly beginners – this was a beginner-focussed dance) suddenly surged onto the dance floor. And by about a chorus into the song I had revised my opinion. This was an interesting, exciting arrangement and performance of a (fairly tired) workhorse. And, wonderfully, the dance floor stayed CROWDED for the rest of the night, though the tempos were quite high on average (though there were plenty of slower songs dropped in). It was cool to hear a band do what a DJ might do – play an old favourite in a basic tempo range to fill the floor, then follow up with something fun and high energy to keep them there.
I did hear a dancer say they thought the band was “a bit samey”, but I pointed out “They’re a tribute band.” I refrained from pointing out that, you know, they’re a band and not a juke box. And a good band puts a lot of effort into developing a unique style and sound. But it did really draw my attention to the fact that the acoustics in the room weren’t brilliant. When you got further to the back, the sound lost a lot of its richness and layers. So from then on I danced up against the stage, destroying my eardrums and yelling up at the band between songs.
In fact, I’m embarrassed now by the number of times I told different musicians how much I loved their set, their band, their solo. Nerd. Nerd. Nerd. I was a total fangirl nerd for these old blokes. Eventually I spent the last few songs just pressed up against the stage jiggling about and yelling “YAY!” I’ve never done anything like that before. I’m not usually so shamelessly fangirl for a band.
Thirdly, three of us did a performance at the dance, and it went well. This probably accounts for some of my crazed love for the band. It’s hard not to love music and musicians when you’re pumped full of dancing and performing adrenaline. But I loved them before we performed (which was at 10:45, with the dance starting at 8). We:
had proper matching costumes,
did the Tranky Doo (because we know it and we wanted to do a famous routine for our first go),
had a special announcer (Jase! Excellent! Host with the most) who we’d prepped with a special speech,
organised it so that we sort of waded into the crowd, clapping and clearing space, rather than turning on all the lights, having everyone move back and sit down,
organised it all with the DJ, carefully, so we were framed properly (yay Tim! Yay!),
did quite a bit of yelling during the performance – stuff like “apple jack!” to each other and “I’m looking at you, Sam!” before our solo and “Again!” before the repeating section. We did that mostly because we’d done it during the practices to remind us of the bits we forgot, but also because we watched the clips of our practices and thought it seemed fun,
followed it up by calling out to the crowd “Do you know the shim sham?! Can you bring the shim sham!” and initiating a shim sham, in honour of Mr Frankie Manning of course. That was a fun thing because it’s Frankie’s birthday on the 26th, and teachers have been running shim sham classes the past few weeks, so the beginners were all excited about it.
It was brilliant fun. It felt as though the crowd really enjoyed it. There felt like lots of energy, and while we did about three phrases of our own (very basic) choreography to get into position, when we started the Tranky Do, the crowd just SHOUTED. It was so exciting. I like to think that people shouted because they recognised the dance, and were all ‘yeah! old school routine!’
It was very nice to have such support, as I haven’t done any performing in ten years, so I have next to no performance skills, and I was rusty. I also made mistakes. We were pretty nervous before hand, and all the shouting and support felt very friendly and was very encouraging. I think of this as a beginning place. We weren’t brilliantly perfect, but we got up there and had a lot of fun, and did a very honest performance that was actually solid and people enjoyed. No cheese. Just a lot of love for the routine and the song and for dancing.
What I hope now, is that other people think ‘hey, I could that!’ and put together something. We’re not a formal troupe or anything (though we used the name ‘the Harbour City Hot Three’), but we did get together and work on the routine pretty thoroughly. We didn’t choreograph a new routine, we used a famous routine. So I hope other people have ideas for a little performance and do something. I’d like to see some more grass roots type performances by people doing shit they just love. Especially if they’re not already performing.
Incidentally, the song we used was ‘Milenberg Joys’ by Gordon Webster‘s latest album Live in Philadelphia, and it was wonderful. It’s a live recording, with lots of energy and a good, exciting finale, so it felt just right. I do recommend that album if you don’t have it – it’s really good stuff. Lots of good songs for lindy hopping, blues dancing, balboaing, everything good.
But my night wasn’t over yet!
After the dance, a few of us had organised a late night dance – the Speakeasy! – at the studio where I did my hip hop class this week. We’d run one at this venue before, and it’d been very popular. This time it was even more so! It’s a really fun party type dance, lots of people help organise it, do door shifts, set up, DJ, cook food and generally help out, and it’s good because it isn’t like a hardcore lindy hop late night.
What makes it good?
The room is a really good shape. The elevator to the venue opens straight into the room, onto the registration desk, which is an island in the middle of the room (where we put the DJs). So the ‘bing!’ of the lift is exciting as it opens and a whole group of people pour out. You’re also immediately in the party. There are lots of couches to sit and talk, room for some dancing (but not a whole big, empty space), and there’s also a smaller room off to the side, through a big archway, where the ladies set up a table for food.
There are a lot of keen bakers in the Sydney dance scene, and this time people went all out. There was a table of really top notch baked goods (cornbread, brownies (two types!), cupcakes, muffins, biscuits, YUM!), all marked with a little sign saying what they were and who made them. That was a really nice touch – it was nice to know that all sorts of people had contributed. That little room had a nice couch in it as well, so it was a nice little place to find some food and move around.
The music is ‘party’ music, and stays below about 150bpm. This is nice, because it feels really accessible, tempo wise. After such a fast, exciting band, it was nice to have less intense music. The DJs usually play a combination of blues (all types, usually higher than about 90bpm), early rnb, some soul, some funk, a little hot jazz, a little swing. There were even a couple of slower songs by neo bands. It’s a really good mix, because the DJs all favour really good songs, and they’re really high energy and lots of fun.
I’m ordinarily a real purist, and hate a DJ who plays unswing at a swing event. But this isn’t a swing event. It feels like a house party. When I walked into the room from the lift, it felt like a real party. Most of the room was standing about scoffing yum baked stuff, drinking beers, and talking really loudly. There was very little standing about awkwardly. It’s a hot, sweaty room, so it feels kind of good on your skin. People tend to get really loud and shouty.
After a little while, while the DJ was playing the sort of good music that gets the room warm, and a few people danced a little bit, the DJ (Tom) changed gears. It was like the bass got deeper, and the music suddenly made me want to dance. The dance floor filled a bit. It’s a good venue, though, because the dance floor is kind of just one space in a range of types of spaces in the room, so you don’t feel as though there’s nothing to do if you’re not dancing. A lot of people were standing about talking and laughing, though they were happy to have a dance or two if they were asked. But it definitely wasn’t the sort of gig where you feel you’ve had a shit night if you didn’t dance every song. But there’s still lots of energy and lots of good dancing going on. Watching the dancers, I was struck by how much fun they were having. There were no serious, worried faces. Just lots of laughing and talking and shouting on the dance floor, as well as people really getting down.
Because the music is varied, people dance in lots of different ways. I saw some bal, some hardcore lindy hop, some blooz, the VERY BEST HIP HOP by one of the studio’s teachers, some kids dancing de disco and getting down, some kids jumping about and just jiggling with fun. It was a nice mix. There were lots of people sort of grooving it while they stood and talked as well, which was nice.
I’ll do a separate post with my set list (and perhaps an 8track) so you can see what I mean when I talk about the music. It’s a BRILLIANT gig to play. I really feel as though I do my best work there. I feel like I connect with the dancers, and keep the energy high, but also working an energy wave. I like the challenge of working between styles – hot dirty old school jazz, 60s protest song blues, super-familiar soul and funk favourites and early r n b. It’s tricky to make all these styles work together without abrupt, clutch-less gear changes, and I like the challenge. I like it that I’m DJing standing up and in the very middle of a crowded room, literally a hand’s breadth from the dancers. It’s exciting and I really feel I can connect with the dancers. But it’s also a very tiring gig where I work really hard. And sweat!
After I DJed (at about 12:45am), I ate some more cakes, then danced about like a fool. Dave and I danced together a LOT, like Uma and John Travolta, like our own bad selves, and like idiots. I talked and shot the shit, I sat on the couch and watched people having a great time on the dance floor, I heckled the DJ and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
At 3am, we admitted exhaustion, hunted down a cab and went home. Happy, achey and very very tired.
A set list from a gig I did at the Speakeasy on Saturday night (22/1/11, 11pm – 2am or so; I DJed 12-1am or so). I haven’t done this in a while, but I was so inspired by the gig itself, and my previously-shitting-me DJing so reinvigorated, I had to post the set list with a long, boring talk about what’s in it and why I played it and so on.
Firstly, why was my DJing giving me the shits? Basically, I’d done too much of it before christmas. Too many frustrating gigs in less than great conditions at a time of year when I was totally buggered. One shitty ‘christmas’ party after another. Fuck that.
I’ve also been doing a lot of unpaid gigs, which is really soul destroying, particularly after being paid in Melbourne. Unpaid gigs make you feel as though your work has no value, particularly when you do them _all the time_. I don’t mind doing the odd gig for free, particularly if it’s for charity or for a special gig for friends who really want to put on a socially right-on gig (like this one I’ll be discussing in a second). But if I’m (one vertebrae in) the backbone of a social night, I really need to see some of the $$ being paid by the punters at the door. My music buying habit also really needs the $$.
I’ve also been doing so much dance work myself, I really want to dance. And there’s nothing more frustrating than sitting on my clack watching other people dance.
(Image lifted from here. If you’re liking this Bill Steber photo, I’ve linked to a few more here.)
So why did I take this gig? Basically, it was because the guys who run this Speakeasy event have some very nice goals:
– make it as cheap as possible for punters;
– run a socially right-on event: make it fun, make the food and drinks good (no fairy bread here), make the vibe friendly, make the music fun;
– be environmentally friendly – avoid non-recyclable cups and so on, and where you can’t be energy or environmentally efficient, be reusable;
– be good to your DJs;
– complement other events by being on after the main dance/event, and working as an ‘after party’ or complement to the main event.
I’ve DJed for them a few times, and the first time I thought ‘fuck, this is what DJing an exchange would be like if the organisers were professional and relaxed, the venue was good and the event was relaxed and fun and not riddled with politics and tension.’ I’ve done a few gigs with them since, and each time has been as good as the first one. The organisers are really nice to me (which, shockingly, isn’t as common with other gigs as you’d expect), the gig is chilled with an equal mix of dancing and socialising (which is really nice – less pressure to ‘facilitate good dancing experiences’, more emphasis on ‘playing fun songs and having fun’) and I feel relaxed and enjoy the actual DJing experience.
This really surprises me as I’m always squeezed into the middle of a crowded room, surrounded by people talking. Usually I hate that crowdedness when I’m trying to ‘work’, but with this gig it feels totally ok. The punters can come and tell me when they like a song or if they want to know who sang it, they buy me drinks, and I can ask them what they’d like to hear or what they’re in the mood for. They’re usually interested in music which isn’t oriented towards hardcore lindy hop, and I play a combination of blues, soul, funk and other fun party music. This is often a sticking point for me. I don’t usually like doing gigs with a mix of music, but I enjoy these ones. I get to play the faster blues music which isn’t ok for lindy hop, really, and isn’t wanted at straight blues nights. And I get to toss in the odd Aretha Franklin song. Which is so sell-out, but also, so wonderful.
So when I was asked to do this gig, I said yes immediately and without stopping to think. Pete was also after some help setting up and I also said yes immediately to that. I really like being involved in dance events which have their politics in the right place: make good events that are fun and friendly and good. Don’t fuck people over. Have fun. I also really like working with these guys as a DJ as they’re so friendly and lovely, I knew that doing prep work would be lots of fun. And when you’re doing volunteer work at dance events, the most important part of the experience is that it be fun and friendly. Which, once again, it’s often not.
The venue, Cross Over Dance Studio was also really nice. Pete and I went along to scout it out earlier in the week (we spent a week putting the event together, which was also nice: less long lead time to get stressy). The guy who runs the joint is really nice and I really liked the mood in the studio. It was busy, with lots of people coming in and out to dance. And as we were checking things out, a huge group of young women arrived for a badass hippity hop class, and that was beyond wonderful. The manager was ridiculously accommodating of our slow hippy-paced consensual decision making process, and I felt really good about going into that space to work with someone who was as stupidly in-love with dancing as I am. Often the venue managers we work with in dance are jaded and burnt out. Working in shitty night clubs we see too many fairly unhappy people, and it’s not nice working with them.
The space itself is nice and fresh and clean – you can see some photos on the site. We used the foyer area, with the option of breaking out to one of the studios if we needed it. Which we did. Sound proofing between the studios was GREAT, which is often an issue when you’re using multiple spaces and DJs. We moved the sofas around in the large foyer area to clear a ‘dance floor’, but plopped little bunches of couches together to making ‘conversation spaces’. It worked well – people flowed between the couch areas and the dance floor, into the studio, around the centre admin island (where we put the DJ), to the ‘kissing room’ which was a bit quieter and darker for calmer conversations. I liked the way the main area had general ‘party’ music, and that that was also where a lot of hanging about talking happened. The studio was really more for more hardcore dancing, and that sort of space isn’t really conducive to good talking and socialising, but is good for more hardcore dancing. I actually didn’t dance in there at all – I preferred the more party/pub/bar atmosphere of the main room.
We put the DJ at the main ‘island’ in the centre of the room, which was a great idea. You could see the entire room, keep the ‘in the mix’ feeling of these guys’ other events, but have a secure table for laptop and a good, somewhat raised vantage point for keeping an eye on things. The lift to the space opened straight into the room, in direct line of sight to the DJ. This was really GREAT for DJing, as I could work directly with the energy of the lift’s ‘bing’ and the sudden influx of a crowded lift’s worth of people. I aimed at making the room feel ‘full’ of sound and party with my music. The speakers were in the middle of the room pushing out from the island, and while they weren’t really up to the job, they worked ok.
People ended up dancing in a few different areas, which was also good – it kept things from feeling really crushed and it kind of messed up the usual hierarchies that happen on a dance floor. I also liked it that dance floor space was also traffic space. That would interfere with hardcore dancing which really needs safe, clear areas for dancing, but it keeps you connected, as a dancer, with the people in the rest of the room when you have to keep your eye out for people moving through to get a beer or to call out to you. I like the way that sort of room makes me dance – I feel connected to the whole room, not just my partner. Perfect for late night party feelings.
Incidentally, Pete put on some great food, free beers and wine, all included in the entry price. The studio is right in the middle of Sydney’s China Town, though, so if you’re looking for late night food, for once you needn’t chase shitty take away. Dumplings for all! The public transport was also really good, which meant a bunch of us went home on the night bus together, rather than having to get cabs.
The only real draw back to the space was the heat. We had heaps of fans on, but it got REALLY hot. This isn’t always a bad thing, though. It gets really sweaty, but I’ve always found a hot room much easier to DJ than a cool room. I think it has something to do with the way the heat affects our bodies. It makes us flush and sweat, which no doubt pumps hormones into the air. It makes our muscles looser than the cold, which makes it easier to dance. I also find it keeps people moving around the room, from the dance floor to the drinks, to the bathrooms to wash their faces, to the fans and back again. But we really could have done with a bit more air conditioning.
Ok, so what did I do with the music? I had fussed a bit over it earlier in the week. We were following the Sydney Festival Night at the Trocadero event, which was apparently AMAZING in the Sydney Town Hall, though there wasn’t much ‘real’ dancing to be had. The second part of that event included a Royal Crown Revue gig. My brief was to provide ‘mostly swing’ with ‘some neo swing’ to complement RCR. These Speakeasy gigs usually include some soul and funk, so I was to drop in some of that. Because they also usually do blues, I was to add in some blues. We talked through it a bit, and I wasn’t to do hardcore old school scratchy swinging jazz.
I ended up putting together a short list that included:
early jump blues and rhythm and blues stuff (eg Kansas shouter guys like Jimmy Witherspoon and Walter Brown, Jay McShann’s earlier stuff, some favourites like Lavender Coffin and other late 40s Lionel Hampton stuff, some later Louis Jordan, some Louis Prima, Wynonie Harris, etc);
some neo (mostly Swing Session and a few other bands, but I didn’t really emphasise this as I have very little);
hi-fi or modern bands who do dirty, gutbucket blues or saucy upenergy party music (this was a mixed group including the Asylum Street Spankers, Preservation Hall band, Tuba Skinny, Gordon Webster’s new album, etc);
some early soul and rnb (including Tina Turner, Big Mama Thornton, etc).
I do this sort of set quite often at exchanges (minus the soul), and I have to say that they’re often my very favourite. The energy is high, the tempos are really accessible, the rhythms are often more familiar than earlier swing and hot jazz, and the lyrics are lots of fun. The shouting and clapping always feels good. I felt that I pushed it a bit this time, and included some newer stuff (to me – not just my same old stodge) and worked the transitions in a more dynamic way. I really pushed the high energy vibe. I wanted the room to feel really crowded and loud and full of shouting and drinking and party. I think I got that happening. I felt really good about the set, and I really enjoyed DJing it. I’m fairly sure the punters liked it, though we had some people leave when they realised it wasn’t entirely like the previous events, or because they were just plain buggered after three different events in one night.
Righto, this is what I played (the modern artists have links to their websites – I recommend all of their albums):
[title, artist, album, bpm, year, time played]
I’m Feeling Alright (fast version) Big Mama Thornton (with Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Otis Spann, Sammy Lawhorn, Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson, Francis Clay) With the Muddy Waters Blues Band, 1966 126 1966 2:28 23/01/11 12:11 AM
All She Wants To Do Is Rock Wynonie Harris Greatest Hits 145 2009 2:34 23/01/11 12:14 AM
My Man Stands Out Di Anne Price Barrel House Queen 145 2010 2:54 23/01/11 12:17 AM
Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen Gordon Webster (with Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Adrian Cunningham) Live In Philadelphia 151 2010 5:16 23/01/11 12:22 AM
Sugar Blues Terra Hazelton (feat. Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards) Anybody’s Baby 113 2004 3:44 23/01/11 12:26 AM
Knock on wood Ike And Tina Turner The Ike & Tina Turner Archive Series : Hits & Classics Vol.1 119 1998 2:31 23/01/11 12:28 AM
Respect Aretha Franklin Greatest Hits – Disc 1 114 2:25 23/01/11 12:31 AM
Hound Dog Big Mama Thornton Very Best Of 76 2:52 23/01/11 12:33 AM
Lemonade Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five (vol 5) 117 1950 3:17 23/01/11 12:37 AM
Lavender Coffin Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Sonny Parker and Joe James Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings 134 1949 2:47 23/01/11 12:40 AM
Blue Monday Jay McShann and his Band (Jimmy Witherspoon) Goin’ To Kansas City Blues 125 1957 3:40 23/01/11 12:43 AM
Play the Blues Walter Brown Kansas City Blues 1944-1949 (Disc 2) 145 1949 2:39 23/01/11 12:46 AM
In The Basement – Part One Etta James The Best Of Etta James 122 1966 2:21 14/06/10 3:55 AM
Let’s Do It Terra Hazelton (feat. Jeff Healey, Marty Grosz, Dan Levinson, Vince Giordano) Anybody’s Baby 126 2004 4:28 23/01/11 12:54 AM
I followed Tom, who’d been playing quite an eclectic mix of old school, funk, super groove and general party. There weren’t millions of people there (perhaps a dozen or so), but they were all talking and cheery (the layout of the room was really what made this happen) and the room felt ‘warm’ in a social sense.
I came in with Big Mama Thornton because I’ve just blown a zillion emusic credits on her and that album with Muddy Waters is beyond excellent. It was a pretty full on start, and I was taking a punt by coming in pounding like that. But I managed to pitch and time it just right, so it worked out. Though The Squeeze had to come tell me to turn the volume down. :D
I followed with that Wynonie Harris song because it’s a nice transition to ‘swing’ and jump blues, and that gave me more options for the following songs. I wasn’t sure whether I’d want to go to straight ahead lindy hop, or to soul or what, so I tried to keep my options open. I was basically thinking ‘big shouting voice’, ‘simple rhythms’, ‘clapping’, and a basic blues structure.
Then I went to Di Anne Price because she’s more in the ‘swing’ category, though this song is pretty much solid jump blues or early rnb, a cover of Julia Lee with a slightly more modern sensibility in her voice. She has a gravelly, dirty voice that complements Big Mama Thornton. From here I could go to lindyhoppable, to blues or to something more modern.
I went to Bei Mir Bist du Schoen, from Gordon Webster’s new album because it has lots of energy and a lovely, gravelly shouting vocal (NB you can download that song for free from the site. The whole album is definitely worth buying). It’s also live, which is a sure fire way of building energy. The beginning is somewhat quieter and more chilled, but that’s ok because I wanted to kind of ease off a bit and give the crowd a bit of an emotional break. But it ends massive.
We had a massive crowd of solid lindy hopper types arrive during that last song, so I went with more conventional lindy hoppable stuff with Terra Hazeleton after that. They looked a bit tired and shell shocked, so I went with something that has a fairly simple rhythm and less intense sound, so they could acclimatise.
After that I was kind of ready to shift gears. Too much swing and hot jazz and early blues type stuff can really kill the energy in a room when most people aren’t really hardcore dancers. I think it’s because it can be a bit unfamiliar, structurally and rhythmically, and people associate it with ‘serious’ dancing, or dancing you have to learn in a dance class. So I went to some Tina Turner. Which was a bit of a leap, but still shouting female vocals. And it’s a song everyone knows. But a vastly superior version to the one most people know. It jumped the energy up in the room.
Then I went to Aretha, as she’s an easy punt. I was also giving people arriving a chance to put their stuff down (we had a steady stream arrivals as the previous gig ended at 12am). But I didn’t want to go too soul or into funk as that can be too off-putting for serious lindy hoppers, or for people coming from the RCR gig.
Hound Dog is my overplayed song. But goddamn it’s good. And people know it well now, and like it. They especially like howling along with the dogs in the chorus and at the end. I was thinking ‘ok, now I’m getting serious again’ with this song. It’s a good one for bumping energy up, but it’s slow, so it’s not tiring. Big Mama is so goddamn awesome, you can’t help but love it. More shouting.
Then I played Lemonade as we had a bunch of lindy hoppers ready to really dance and I needed to give them some familiar rhythms and melodies. Still really not hardcore lindy hopping music to my mind – it’s too late, historically, and too close to blues. Too rhythmically simple. But it’s a great party song. And a nice transition from Big Mama to older, more swinging jazz stuff.
Lavender Coffin. Overplayed favourite. Perfect party song. Something everyone knows. Lots of shouting and clapping. Perfect for tired lindy hoppers. From this point we really were crowded, and people were really ready to dance. But dance in a ‘I’m at a party!’ way. The way people dance at live band gigs here (like Puggsly Buzzard or Unity Hall) where you happily dance one song then go for a drink or a chat. Or where you have to watch the people around you carefully because it’s crowded, or where you have to do some showing off for your friends on the sidelines. It was nice to see quite a bit of that last stuff, actually, and not just from my idiot friends.
Jay McShann and Walter Brown. More of the same for a couple of songs.
Then I changed it up. I’m not entirely sure this was the best song. I got distracted and had to talk to Pete, then we had a few announcements and cheering and stuff. So I started in again with something completely different – Etta James. More shouting. A clear shift back to dirty soul. I didn’t really feel it working properly, though, so I shifted again.
This time more Terra Hazelton (gee I’m overplaying her atm), because it’s a familiar song that people love singing along. It’s a nice version that starts kind of mellow (I often use it to start sets), but builds up and gets really shouty. She sings more mellowly at the beginning, then shouts more later. It’s a funny song, so the lyrics are fun. I always think of Tank Girl singing it when I play it. It’s good for lindy hop.
Now we were solidly in badass lindy hop territory. But not super fast – people were too tired, it was too crowded and it wasn’t a fast dancing scene. It was a beer drinking scene. So I pulled some Preservation Hall. This song can go really badly with the wrong crowd. I think it needs a crowded floor, and people with stamina. Preservation Hall are the ultimate party band.
But it’s a really intense song, emotionally, and really loud with a big, solid sound. So I eased it off a bit with Linnzi Zaorski, who is very popular with a lot of dancers in Australia atm. This song is also overplayed, but it’s familiar and that’s good at a party: singalong factor. It feels less emotionally intense, even though it’s a bit faster. So it feels like a nice break. I always see the floor fill or at least change over, with a new wave of dancers coming on, when this songs starts. I like that because it gives me a chance to try a new angle or work in a new direction because the dancers are ‘new’ (as in, had a song out just before) and bring a new energy to the floor.
Then Tuba Skinny. This is another mellower sounding song. It has fewer instruments, and a sparser sound. The vocals are a bit laid back. It’s a Bessie Smith song, though, so it has the right dirty energy. I’d have preferred to play the Smith version, because it is beyond wonderful. But I was heading in a particular direction and wanted the hi-fi. It also feels a bit less intense because it is a less solid sound. I dunno. Anyways, it’s a nice song, and a good lead up to the next one.
I played Shave em Dry, one of the most overplayed songs on earth, because it is loud, shouting, live, dirty, high energy, hifi, funny, has a great chunky rhythm, is lots of fun. I often play it when I want to shake people up a bit. It has a full-on live energy feel, with lots of call and response type interaction with audience. For first time listeners it’s a bit of a shock because it’s so explicit. For familiar ears, the anticipation of dirty lyrics is good. I like the way it makes explicit the innuendo of Do Your Duty, the previous song. And I played it because Jase was DJing next, and there is no song more appropriate for Jase. And I wanted to leave him with a crowded, high energy room.
And that’s it! I had a lot of fun doing this set. I liked moving between styles. I really liked playing that particular room. I liked the serious change from my usual sets. I didn’t feel I had to ‘achieve’ anything. I just played loud party music. It was just a whole lot of fun. Then I went and danced like a fool, working through three tshirts in an hour.
A few Sydney dancers have recently been running some late night speakeasy events after churchpit on Fridays, and they’ve been very successful. The venue is small and has pleasing acoustics – the square ‘end’ of a long, L-shaped room contains the sound (especially when the speaker is positioned on the long wall, playing into the short leg of the L) and leaves the rest of the room at the right noise level for talking and drinking. The long, narrow L shape leaves people squashed pretty close together, and this makes the room feel crowded (because it is) and fun. The drinks are well priced and good – beers, wines, etc for drinkers, top quality soft drinks (san pelegrino, those organic softies, etc) for non-drinkers. I don’t know if there’re coffees, but there could be. Last night there were cakes as well.
Last night I had a chance to DJ the gig and it was super fun. The organisers are really good to work with – friendly, easy going, relaxed, lots of useful feedback on the music, etc etc. It was like DJing a late night at an exchange, except better because the crowd were relaxed and friendly (rather than hyped and kind of cliquey/show-offy), the organisers were mellow and professional and the sound system was nice.
The music is usually blues or ‘slow lindy’, with the organisers themselves favouring a soul/funk aesthetic. Because the emphasis is on socialising rather than hardcore dancing, and because the gig follows the churchpit lindy night, there’s less pressure to play ‘proper’ music, and more interest in ‘good’ music. So it’s a fun gig.
This is what I played (title, artist, album, bpm, year, time):
Come Together Ike And Tina Turner Absolutely The Best 80 1998 3:40
Hound Dog Big Mama Thornton Very Best Of 76 2:52
Leave Your Hat On Etta James The Best Of Etta James 85 1973 3:19
Chain Of Fools Aretha Franklin Greatest Hits – Disc 1 116 2:48
I Got What It Takes Koko Taylor I Got What It Takes 72 1975 3:43
3 O’clock In The Morning Blues Ike and Tina Turner Putumayo Presents: Mississippi Blues 64 1969 2:40
My Man’s An Undertaker Catherine Russell Cat 106 2006 2:48
My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More Alberta Hunter (acc by Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Fran Wess, Norris Turney, Billy Butler, Gerald Cook, Aaron Bell, Jackie Williams) Amtrak Blues 76 1978 3:49
Sugar Blues Preservation Hall The Hurricane Sessions 61 2007 5:02
Shave ‘em Dry Asylum Street Spankers Nasty Novelties 131 1997 4:21
Louisiana Two Step Clifton Chenier Louisiana Blues & Zydeco [Bonus Track] 197 1965 3:49
Built for Comfort Taj Mahal In Progress & In Motion (1965-1998) 98 1998 4:46
It Takes Two to Tango Lester Young and Oscar Peterson Lester Young With the Oscar Peterson Trio 104 6:09
My Sweet Hunk O’Trash Billie Holiday with Sy Oliver and his Orchestra and Louis Armstrong The Complete Original American Decca Recordings (disc 2) 95 1949 3:20
The Clifton Chenier track was really my just taking advantage of an open minded crowd, and didn’t work. But it did make people jiggly in their seats, which is good. I <3 zydeco atm, though I know nothing about it.
I tried to play upenergy, fun party music. The first Koko Taylor song is where I got a bit chilled. This wasn't really a crowd interested in slow, sexy dancing. They were more interested in slower, funkier dancing, and that was fine with me. The first block were more what I think of as 'Chicago' blues, though that's not really a very accurate description. From there I got a bit more old school in style, though I played 'new' songs for the most part - no scratchies. I was aiming for dirty, fun lyrics, lots of energy, beerdancing party music. 'Sugar Blues', which is rocking it with blues dancers at exchanges at the moment was a bit too 'serious' for this crowd.
Though Chenier cleared the floor, it was full again by the middle of the next song. I was moving towards a more lindy style for the next DJ, Gunther, who's more comfortable with lindy than blues. Those last couple of songs went down nicely, and they're a couple of my favourites. 'Two to Tango' is one of those long-term favourites, and I really like the Billie/Louis duet 'Sweet hunk of trash'. Holiday's masterful delayed approach to timing is really understood by Armstrong, who hangs back there with her. That feeling of squeezing the very last second out of each beat makes the song feel just a little bit saucier, but also lets the singers make some clever jokes. Comedy is made by timing, and swinging jazz rhythms make for perfect delivery: that long pause that lets the audience begin to figure out the punch line, and then pop! the line.
It was a fun gig, and I really enjoyed doing it. I like going to that event as a punter, as well, even though the late nights are challenging at the end of a busy week.